Monday, August 26, 2013

Show Them The Money!

I’m not a huge golf fan, but earlier this month I found myself tuning in periodically to the PGA Championships at Oak Hill. A guy named Jason Dufner won the tournament, along with $1.44M of a total $8M prize purse. Rounding out the “podium,” Jim Furyk took home $865K for 2nd, and Henrik Stenson $545K for 3rd. The top 7 all cleared a cool quarter of a million, and ~20 were over six figures. The last player to make the cut (75th place and 26 strokes back) took home $15K for his trouble.

well played, JD... well played

For comparison, here are the prize purses for Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events in 2013:

Ironman World Championships (Hawaii)
$650K total prize purse: $120K, $60K, $40K… down to $10K for 10th

Ironman 70.3 World Championships (Vegas, with rotating international venues in future)
$200K total prize purse: $35K, $17.5K, $11.5K… down to $3K for 10th

Ironman Regional Championships (Melbourne, Frankfurt, Mont-Tremblant)
$125K total prize purse: $25K, $12.5K, $7.5K… down to $2K for 8th

Ironman 70.3 Regional Championships (Auckland, Panama, St. George, Wiesbaden)
$75K total prize purse: $15K, $7.5K, $5K… down to $1K for 8th

Ironman (non-championship races)
$25-75K depending on race – for $25K: $5K, $2.75K, $1.75K… down to $750 for 6th

Ironman 70.3 (non-championship races)
$15-50K depending on race – for $15K: $3K, $2K, $1.25K… down to $500 for 5th

To summarize, the last player to make the cut at the PGAs, in 75th place, took home the same prize money as Brent McMahon and Meredith Kessler after winning the US 70.3 Pro Championships!

in some ways you picked the wrong sport... sorry bro

It’s no secret why this disparity exists, and I’m not here to say that it’s “wrong.” It’s simple economics… people are entertained by watching experts swing a stick at a ball on the ground, to the point where such tournaments are regularly televised. Advertisers are attracted to the people watching at home, and are willing to pay a lot to reach those potential customers. This results in lots of money to go around, a chunk of which goes towards big prize money. This serves the purpose of further building the prestige (and ratings) for the event and said sponsors, and around and around it goes. If someone’s putting with $1M on the line, you stop and watch. If it’s for a hot dog, you change the channel!

The bad news is, demand for triathlon pales in comparison to sports such as golf… triathlon is still more of a niche market than mainstream, so fewer events are covered, and advertisers are able to pay less due to fewer potential customers to reach. The end result is less money to go around.

coulda used some Triple Threat race kits!
The good news is, triathlon is steadily growing in popularity. Although relatively meager, prize money has actually been creeping up over time. I would argue that the potential spectator/television market is largely untapped, even among non-triathletes. The Olympic race in London last year attracted masses of people to Hyde Park, showing that triathlon is actually a decent spectator sport in the right format. As far as televised events go, the Ironman World Championships has been a staple on network TV for decades. Strong ratings have attracted sponsors and helped to build up the event and triathlon in general over time. As a kid it seemed like I stumbled on Kona coverage every year... I remember watching Mark Allen dominate, and fighting back “allergies” as they showcased various everyday people who had overcome something amazing just to be there.

In other promising news, additional races are now televised from time to time, and many others are available to stream on-line. Last week I watched some live coverage of Ironman Mont-Tremblant (North American Champs), which I really enjoyed. Obviously there were sponsors and advertisements associated with that event. That format will be the more immediate future of triathlon coverage, and I think has some promise. If you think pro triathletes should be paid more, tune in to the events that are currently available! Besides Kona, will triathlon coverage ever become more mainstream, similar to regular golf tournaments? Hopefully… I for one would watch, contributing a few pennies to the prize purse. Heck, I'll even buy hot dogs for the winners.

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